Lt Colonel Dhoni

He may try to grab eyeballs with his military stint in Kashmir but Dhoni will always be Captain Cool

When cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni received the Padma Bhushan on the seventh anniversary of our epic World Cup triumph, he did so wearing the Territorial Army uniform. He was conferred the rank of honorary lieutenant colonel by the Territorial Army on November 1, 2011, and in that one moment, seemed to have turned   excellence in sport to a serious matter of a nation’s pride, thereby opening a Pandora’s box on whether cricket should be “weaponised” or “militarised” so to speak. Disregarding criticism, and knowing that cricket is nothing but war when it comes to the subcontinent, he even wore gloves bearing the Army insignia “Balidaan” in a World Cup match against South Africa. Of course, the military zeal clearly didn’t result in either a spectacular performance by one of the greats in the game or Team India sipping the cup of victory. Subsequently, he was subjected to a barrage of criticism. Many argued that a world competition of cricket was certainly not a military occasion, the inherent spirit of sports being to rise above territorial feelings in a fraternal spirit. Besides, the honorary rank definitely didn’t give Dhoni the right to display insignia. Critics wondered if legendary athlete Milkha Singh was any less devoted or spirited on the field, considering he was an Army regular who never displayed his insignias or badges.

Some suggested if the cricketer felt so strongly about the Army, he should do some genuine work for their betterment. So, Dhoni, who is currently going through a lean patch in both his career and reputation — the second under shadow for allegedly receiving benefits from the errant Amrapali builders — has decided to sign up for duty. He will be spending a fortnight with his Territorial Army unit in Kashmir next month, guarding posts and even undertaking road patrols. He has already undertaken parachute training, too. Operations have their own risk and Dhoni’s readiness to engage with the nation’s security management on the surface demonstrates a certain level of interest and commitment. Other cricket superstars like Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar have also joined the armed forces in an honorary capacity in the past but have not pursued things to their logical end. Is this then a PR exercise, aimed at keeping himself relevant and preparing himself for a role beyond that of a sportsman? Captain Cool Mahi has given us many breath-taking moments on the field courtesy a remarkably incisive mind and one wonders if he is crafting another strategy to continue his legacy of superstardom. Or is this a ploy to hone his team sport skills further? But if it is intended to be another diversionary talk point, then it is defeatist. Dhoni will always be India’s great captain and cricketer and he doesn’t need any other embellishment to underline it. Even if he retires with grace and acceptance. He will continue to rule our hearts with the huge heave of a helicopter shot.

The Pioneer